Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Monthly Archives: December 2008

Christmas Black Box


Speed-limiting devices should be fitted to cars on a voluntary basis to help save lives and cut carbon emissions, according to a new report.

The government’s transport advisers claim the technology would cut road accidents with injuries by 29%.

The device automatically slows a car down to within the limit for the road on which it is being driven.

Let’s get this straight: this is not about limiting speed. Why? Because there are already automatic speed control devices that drivers can use voluntarily – they’re called “cruise control” and do much the same job, albeit by allowing you to keep your foot off the throttle and covering the brake instead (so is probably safer than something which allows you to leave your foot on the accelerator). Let us not forget, either, that speed limiters are hardly much use on those mopeds whose west-side-gangsta-wannabe owners riders decide they are too cool to be limited to 30mph.

No, the key element in all this is the bit about the satellites. OK, stop laughing – I know I’m potentially into true tin-foil hat territory here, but the parallels between this story and the issue of ID cards is uncanny.

The real story with ID cards is not the plastic, but the infrastructure and the database that will be required to underpin it. So it is with speed limiters: it’s not the speed limiting capabilities, but the fact that it will enable a state-owned/regulated black box to be fitted in every vehicle, which can then be tracked.

ID cards are being paraded as the panacea to tackle the evils of terrorism, illegal immigration and, quite possibly (once the spin really gets going), third-world hunger. Speed limiters will tackle the evils of road deaths, climate change and, quite possibly, third-world hunger.

ID cards, like the speed limiters, are being introduced initially on a voluntary basis, which we all know is just an pre-cursor to their eventual compulsory introduction because they’ve been so successful/not quite successful enough/part of everyday life (helped no doubt by some thoroughly reliable and trustworthy government statistics).

I know, I know, speed kills. Well, technically at least, yes it can. However, the bottom line is that it’s not speed that kills, it’s the idiot behind the wheel, or the handlebars, or the careless pedestrian. What next? Personal black boxes?

OK, I’ll get my shiny hat….


Here's hoping

According to yesterday’s FT all may not be well over at the EU bunker kremlin headquarters:

At times of crisis, it certainly helps to have a heavyweight in the EU presidency. Thanks to the present system of rotation, however, the Czech Republic must now take the chair. Many in Brussels fear business will grind to a halt.(My emphasis)

Yes, I too was wondering if anyone would actually notice if EU business ground to a halt. So, I will leave you with that happy thought and wish you all a Merry Christmas.

(h/t: Open Europe)

Saint Peston Declares Year Zero

What’s life like in Lefty la-la-land? Ask Robert Peston, the BBC’s economic affairs editor.

He has spent quite some time recently talking about the “New Capitalism” and about how, now that the government has a stake in nearly everything, business will now have to be answerable to “us” – i.e. the taxpayers. The passage from his essay (pdf 37kb) sums it up:

So if we’ve witnessed a semi-permanent nationalisation of the banking system and will soon see significant taxpayer support for real companies in the real economy, then our banks and private-sector companies will have to work much harder to sustain the goodwill of those who are keeping them alive: millions and millions of taxpayers.

Peston falls into the old trap of confusing the State with the people, but that we expect. What he also misses is the small fact that most businesses don’t get far without listening to people in the first place – i.e. their customers. Ignore your customers and they will go elsewhere and your business dies. Unless, that is, you have a state-sponsored monopoly, or some way of raising revenue without needing to have regard to your customers. I wonder why a BBC employee would think business was run more along the lines of the latter case?

Anyway, the deification of Peston by his employer gathers pace (in stark contrast to his reputation among those in the thick of it), with his featuring prominently in some trailers for BBC news and current affairs coverage (aren’t you glad the BBC doesn’t have adverts?) and last night he presented a piece on his “new capitalism”. From now on, we will see business being more ethical, less about a mad grab for profit and having to think more about their role in society. Even David Cameron was wheeled on to support the idea of more ethical business practices.

Except it’s all a load of cobblers. Most businesses do recognise their place in their communities, and why wouldn’t they? Their leaders, managers and staff and, of course, their customers are all part of those communities. Most businesses are small or medium sized enterprises that are naturally pretty close to the ground. Thus, by most reasonable definition of “ethics” they have been ethical for years and will continue to be so – the ones that survive the next couple of years, anyway. For larger companies, their shareholders will include individuals and their pension funds. In fact, the best way to sever the link between the ownership of a business and society must be to have the State take a stake in it – either through forced nationalisation, or by dilution of existing capital with a the State’s share.

Of course there are some stereotypical ruthless uncaring capitalists around, just as there are some socialists driven by spite, bitterness and class hatred, but we’re into rotten apple analogies here.

It has been interesting to see the Left wetting themselves with glee over recent months and predicting the “end of capitalism”. Talk of a “new capitalism” is just a slightly more refined version of that idea. The concept, much beloved of at least one notorious left wing regime in recent history, is of a “year zero”, albeit an economic one. As if the recent turmoil – the bust that followed a state-assisted boom – is something more than a particularly hard downturn in the economic cycle. Recent events no more herald a “new capitalism” than the earthquake that triggered the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami heralded a new tectonic system. It’s nonsense.

Ironically, an economy with a higher degree of nationalisation and state interference is more reminiscent of the misguided socialism of the post WW2 era, rather than anything “new”. One also cannot ignore that fact that US governments, starting with the Clinton administration, pushed banks to lend to riskier cases in the name of fairness, and in the UK the sham of Bank of England independence was underpinned by inflation targets that were based on measures that significantly understated real inflation, and thus resulted in unnaturally low interest rates.

And that is what Peston and his ilk conveniently forget – perhaps because it was all before their unilaterally announced year zero.

Royal Mail Privatisation: Wrong Again

Labour MP Jim McGovern has briefly leapt from obscurity and has resigned from the government, unhappy at government plans for the part-privatisation of Royal Mail.

Quite right too: they should be privatising all of it.

On a less flippant note, full privatisation has to be the ultimate way forward, but only if coupled with genuine measures to bring competition and a free market into domestic mail services (the true objective of privatisation). Sadly, I expect the usual reaction would be to set up another regulator who would pretend to control the state-created monopoly and “come under fire” every time prices went up.

A Planely Stupid Waste of CO2

I’m not sure if Plane Stupid is just the name of the organisation or also a summary of its membership qualifications, complete with bad spelling. It does seem, though, that apart from being little more than yobs with a thin excuse for their yobbery, they are also not very good at thinking.

Their website is crowing that 21 flights were cancelled this morning and many, presumably, had to be diverted, using up more fuel and producing more CO2 in the process. Diverted flights will cause longer journeys for those passengers to get home – yet more CO2. And of course, most o fhte passengers on those cancelled flights will simply be flying out at another time, so no CO2 saving there.

Presumably, now that aircraft will be in the wrong place, other ‘planes will have to be flown in from elsewhere to plug the gaps in the schedules: more CO2.

So, given that the protests won’t make a jot of difference to the aviation industry, other than seeing BAA tighten up the security and RyanAir’s legal department taking a few hours out of putting up the Christmas decorations, the net effect of the protest, even in the longer run, will be a brief upward blip in CO2 emissions.

Another blow for the planet! Well done, people.

Now buzz off and get yourselves a job/life/girlfriend.

The Police and Politics

The storm over the Damien Green arrest hasn’t gone away. Like being in the eye of any storm, it’s relatively quiet right now, but the winds will pick up again tomorrow when MPs debate the issue.

With the furore over the Speaker’s role, and Martin trying to shift blame onto the Serjeant-at-Arms (one of his staff, in effect), we mustn’t forget the wider implications for the Police.

Let’s face it, there has been a degree of ineptitude on the part of the police – though not to the extent of the Stephen Lawrence or de Menezes cases, but as with them, I suspect it has been mainly a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy (though I’m not commenting on the motivations of those in government who have allegedly led the police into this mire).

But when defending themselves, the police cannot just step back from the situation saying “we don’t do politics”. When officers arrest an MP and/or search his home and office, they are getting involved in a political situation, whether they like it or not. It is unavoidable, but what they can do is be better prepared for the inevitable fall-out.

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Quite a Week

Typical. A string of big news stories break this week and I’m snowed under with work and unable to blog. Never mind, I’m here now to comment on the major moves made this week: moves the scale of which haven’t been seen for many years, and which have followed growing international concern about how a system that many of us had taken for granted had broken down.

Yes, Terry Wogan is leaving Eurovision.

In other news ….

The “Why Bother?” Comment: Another bail-out at the expense of those of us who have taken the trouble to be careful with our finances is on the cards. Brown has promised a two year mortgage payment holiday for those who have seen a big drop in income or have lost their jobs. Well, fair enough if you have taken every precaution against such misfortune, but does this mean that those who took out a 100% mortgage without protection will get bailed out with my money? Heck,  Mrs R and I could have gone for a bigger mortgage and got somewhere larger where I didn’t bang my head on the under-stairs cupboard, but we naively cling on to the quaint notion of not over-stretching yourselves in case things go pear-shaped.

“At least”, say the (current) Government, “we are trying to do something, unlike the evil Tories who were a ‘do-nothing’ government”. If only we Conservatives had been a do-nothing government then perhaps we wouldn’t have exacerbated the last recession by being in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. To be frank, though, I’d rather have a do-nothing government than one that puts the country up to its ears in debt to achieve very little.

Reagan had it in one with his advice to politicians: “Don’t just do something – stand there.”

The “Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth” Comment: I’m not going to turn down another mortgage rate cut from my lender, feeling smug as I do that I let my fixed rate end in mid October the day before the 1.5% base rate drop.

Even so, am I the only one that thinks 1.5% was too much, and another 1% is just plain silly? Aren’t we overreacting and failing to see that by now, it’s not the lack or cost of credit that is stopping people spending – it’s the thought that they might not have a job in six months. I’m not convinced that pushing the pound down, and the price of imports up is going to help inflation, especially when added to the rise in fuel costs announced by the Chancellor in the pre-budget report last week. Once the deep discounting of the Christmas and New Year sales is over, what is inflation, and the low base rate, going to look like?

The Teaser: I’m not ignoring the whole Damien Green thing, which in time honoured tradition has been brushed under the carpet for a few news cycles while the inevitable inquiries take place. I will blog about it shortly.

And finally this week, the Queen went to Parliament and gave a speech. Nothing to get excited about.